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Jobs in Show Business: Tips for a Career in Entertainment

The facts are grim for those hoping to break into showbiz. It was while I was on a panel called “Building Your Empire” for the SAG/AFTRA Conservatory that I found out ONLY 10% of actors who are in the union are working. Wait, I’m not done. Only 10% of those who are working are ABOVE THE POVERTY LEVEL. That’s good to know before you quit your day job.  Afterwards they provided food. It must have been a nice change for the participants not to be serving it.

SAG/AFTRA Panel "Building Your Empire"
(L to R) Scott David (CD for Criminal Minds, founder of The Actors Link),
 Ajay Jahveri (Argentum Photos),  
Jamison Reeves (writer, actor, producer, director),  
Judy Carter, (Goddess)  
Lee Garlington (actor, writer, career coach, phenomenal moderator),  
Gary Marsh (founder of Breakdown Services)
Fledgling actors in the audience were asking, “How do I get an agent?”

Well, if you’re just getting over the fact that getting into the SAG/AFTRA union wasn’t your ticket to buying a condo in Brentwood, wait until you see what happens when you sign with an agent.  I’ve been represented by ICM, William Morris Agency, Gersh Agency, 5 different commercial agents, 3 different managers, and have worked with over 15 speakers bureaus.  I once named my dog “Bernie,” after my agent Bernie, because when I called either of them, they didn’t do anything. An actor friend told me he came off stage one night and was approached by a commercial agent, who said, “I’d like to handle you.” That would have been flattering except the guy WAS his agent. 

This year has been one of my most successful yet. I've shot 2 television pilots, my screenplay is being read by producers, I have regular speaking engagements, and I do not have ANY exclusive representation except for my lovely literary agent and a few speaker bureaus.

If you’re like me, you might make the mistake of thinking because you’ve signed with an agent, you can slack off. That’s their job; they often slack off once you’ve signed the agency agreement.


1) Create a database. (CRM – Customer Relationship Management) When I was an 8 year-old magician performing at birthday parties, I kept every client’s name on an index card in a recipe box. I’ve moved up from a recipe box to a computer, where I file away everyone who has ever contacted me. Just like in Game of Thrones, the power is in the hands of how many people are in your army. Now, your power is in the number of followers you have in your database, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube. I use SugarCRM. You can use MailChimp, or here is a list of reviews http://www.reviews.com/crm-software/.

2) Provide your followers with value. They want to hear how you can help them. Give your fans something other than, “Come see my show!”  Email them about things THEY are interested in (don’t assume it’s you). Think of yourself as a first responder for THEIR needs.

3) Network by supporting other people.  After your day job, get out of the house, stay off the 405 and other roads that don’t move so you can talk to other comics, actors, writers, and participate in the community.  If you come to other people’s events, they just might come to yours (it’s not true for funerals).

4) Become a YOUTUBE  STAR. DIY your own projects on YouTube. Build your team to create your own projects and internet content. Join together with actors, writers, and directors to show what you can do. YouTube sensation Jenna Marbles has over 13 million subscribers and makes millions. GloZell turned herself into a star with her zany characters on YouTube. YouTube is the stage you want to be on.

5) Change your thinking. Getting a call and being cast in a network show is as unlikely as getting hit by lightning. Oh, wait, that just happened in Venice Beach! But, until I find a new metaphor, I’m holding onto it as it’s the best way to say you shouldn’t think that waiting to be discovered is a productive step. Be pro-active. DISCOVER YOURSELF. Network TV is yesterday. Think about YouTube, Netflix, Google TV, where new stars are being discovered online. The internet is the new casting couch – where you’ll get hits, instead of being hit on.

5 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer

In business we hear: “Think OUTSIDE of the BOX.” What many don’t understand is that the road to original ideas is not a direct route. Getting to ‘outside of the box’ cannot be navigated by a GPS. It’s off the grid, like traveling on a dirt road, taking detours, and hoping you’ll know you’re at the right place when you’ve arrived.  

This is a critical piece of information for ANYONE who wants to do a TED talk, a corporate speech or even write a book that is FULL OF ORIGINAL IDEAS.

I got a call from someone, who wanted speaking coaching after he had seen his accountant friend, and one of my former clients, speak.  He was surprised and impressed that his straight-laced friend got laughs, tears, and a standing ovation. Did I mention that he’s a CPA? Now, he wanted the same thing – to speak and have an audience fall in love with him. I took him on.

At our first meeting, he left disappointed as he thought his entire speech would come together at that first meeting.  After we ended the hour Skype session with some rough ideas, he asked, “Is this working?”

What ISN’T working – with more work – WILL.  Be suspicious of things that are too good to be true. Newsflash: It takes MORE than “7 Days to Write your Best Seller,” way more than “5 Hours to Lose Weight” and it may NEVER happen that you “Find God and Peace over Breakfast.”

If you are to create something that will blow people’s socks off, you have to put in TIME and accept that the creative process is MESSY.

The journey to SUCCESS is littered with trial and error. The first pass is like putting on your underwear. Nobody has to see it unless you want them to. Once you’re covered, you get to address the next layer. The fun begins when you cut, improve and refine. Failing is a friendly tool, letting you know something needs to be fixed. We have to be willing to toss out material the way we get rid of other trash. Did I just lose the HOARDERS?

Look at it this way: A baby takes 9 months, and that doesn’t include your 5 years of diets, bad choices, and that Jack Daniels, “Let’s do shooters!” year.

As Michelangelo said, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”  I would have advised him to take another pass at those sentences, lose some of the words and maybe get it down to, “I get rid of what’s there that’s not needed.” Too bad Michelangelo wasn’t my client; I could have made him a success.

I urge clients NOT TO RUSH, but to give themselves room and time to find the story that will motivate, a message that will inspire, and jokes to keep everyone awake. What matters most is NOT the idea, but HOW you present it.

My job as a coach is to help you find your never-existed-before-in-time idea, explore it and turn it on its head to see it from all angles while you hold onto your faith in yourself and in your message.

When you put in the right amount of work, it WILL appear to have been effortless.

Here are 5 simple tips to help you become a better writer:

1. Try writing at 4 AM. It's easier to write when your critic is asleep. You will have access to the hidden gold in your subconscious.

2. Write inappropriate stuff. There will be time to edit and censor yourself, but filtering out ideas in the beginning will also filter out the gold. 

3. If you get stuck – write lists starting with the Top 10 Reasons Writing Sucks. Lists are not just for David Letterman.

4. Cover your computer screen while you write. Not seeing what you are writing will keep you from judging it as you go.

5. Set your iPhone timer and keep writing until it goes off. The difference between pros and amateurs is that the pros keep going even when they don’t want to.

Careers in Comedy: Sometimes the Worst Mess Leads You to Success

How do you know when it’s time to change your direction in life?  Are you going to keep waiting on tables, or should you GIVE UP on your fantasy career and do something else? How much longer do you stay with an agent who’s not getting you jobs? Are you better off in a so-so relationship, or is it smarter to LEAVE while you still have all your original parts? STAY OR LEAVE: a question that resurfaced over the holiday weekend. 

I’d been SO EXCITED as I arranged a 4th of July vacation with my family in Big Bear -- hiking with the dogs, lying in a chaise lounge by the lake, sipping a drink, swimming. Then I saw the place. The Lake Front Lodge was a 3-STORY WALK-UP with nails sticking out of the plywood steps (I put the pictures up on my Facebook page). The room had curtains with BULLET HOLES; no, they weren’t lace. The one lamp was without a bulb. The bedspread, circa 1982 K-Mart, seemed to have holes from the SHRAPNEL, probably related to the curtain incident. There were no chairs by the lake, maybe because of the Hitchcock-like swarms of MOSQUITOES.  Swimming? Only if you could step through multiple CATFISH CARCASSES floating belly up on the shoreline.

So much for not checking Trip Advisor.

In one shattering moment, we discovered there were NO refunds, no other places available, and it started to STORM. Lightning, thunder, and a 4.8  EARTHQUAKE. The room was a crime scene, it was storming, our cellphones were beeping with an emergency flash flood warning – what next? Locusts, vermin, the slaughtering of firstborns? Did it make sense to STAY and smear the blood of a Paschal Lamb on my car? Or give up on the fantasy of what I had envisioned and LEAVE? We had to make a decision.

This reminded me of another time in my life where I had to make a decision to walk away or stay and make the best of it.

In 1989, I had a series of 10 stand-up comedy gigs booked by Rick Messina, who later became Drew Carey’s manager. I was staying in New York in the kind of neighborhood where even a schnauzer could get mugged, and that’s what happened to my beloved Walter, who got attacked by a pack of stray dogs. Cabs apparently don’t stop for bleeding animals, but I managed to get him to the animal hospital. Handing him over, I was crying as I told the doctors, “I can’t stay, I have to work!”

“This late? What do you do?” they asked.

“I’m a stand-up comedienne!” I said through my sobs.

At the time I had spent 17 years as a stand-up comedienne, sometimes 46 weeks on the road. This gig was in Long Island, a club called Governor’s, which somehow was a magnet for all the scum of the earth. I borrowed a jacket to cover my blouse that was caked with my dog’s blood. Making my way to the stage, I heard the crowd welcoming me with, “You suck! You suck!

I plodded onstage, starting a joke, “I’m worried about getting old…” Someone shouted, “Getting old?” I was 34. Do I stay onstage and “get them” or end this misery and piss off everyone?

Then, I had a EUREKA MOMENT where time seemed to roll in slow motion. I saw their drunken faces as a blur. I saw my father’s face with his bloodshot eyes. Then it hit me – that making drunks laugh was something I did as a child at the dinner table. I realized NOW I am an adult with CHOICES. And that night, I made a DARING CHOICE – to LEAVE. I walked off stage, walked out of my contracts with Rick, picked up my dog, got a plane home to LA, and looked for something else to do with my career.  For a year, I thought about how I could reinvent myself. That led to launching my workshops, writing Stand-Up Comedy: The Book, and appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and getting booked in a career I didn’t know existed – as a CORPORATE SPEAKER.  

This is what came to mind while we were in Big Bear waiting for the mudslide to clear that had been triggered by the earthquake. Sometimes when dealing with bad situations, we forget that we ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE.  As with poker, if life deals you bad cards, you can keep hoping that your luck will change, or fold.  I folded. I left Big Bear.

Back in the comfort of my own home, I took a bath in my CLEAN tub, went boogie-boarding in the ocean down the block, and felt sure I’d done the right thing. Knowing when to LEAVE is as important as knowing when to STAY.

Feel free to forward this to someone you know in a terrible marriage, dead-end job or whoever’s had too much cosmetic work done.

Is it better to be sorry about something you did, or something you didn't do? You have to DO IT to find out.

How to Use Storytelling to Promote Your Business

It’s been shown that people respond to stories – not data. 

When information is put into a story that elicits an emotional response, it has more impact. That’s why companies go beyond product placement, preferring to have their products be part of the story on successful TV shows. On “Modern Family” an entire episode revolved around TV dad, Phil, wanting to get an iPad for his birthday. The show aired two days prior to the release of the iPad. We all related to Phil’s pursuit of the uber-cool iPad, surely a factor in it becoming the “I’ve-got-to-have-it” product of the year. It cost the company nothing and Apple got a formidable amount of bites.

Note to Apple: Send Judy Carter an iPad and she’ll work you into her life story.

Stories are a powerful tool for marketing your products. And you need not be Apple to use them.  As a motivational speaker, my Back of the Room (BOR) sales exploded when, rather than simply announcing that I would be SELLING my book, I told a STORY about my book.

Marketing Through Storytelling

Basic Story Structure is this -- a hero starts with a MESS and ends in SUCCESS. It may not be the success he or she had in mind, but in all effective stories, our hero learns something and benefits.

The story of my first book, Stand-Up Comedy: The Book starts with how I lost my way after my mom died. I quit working comedy clubs and wrote a book on how to do stand-up. It was widely read – by 59 book agents, all of whom rejected it. The story got more miserable as I made one last attempt to get a role on a sitcom and found out at the airport that the flight I’d booked to get to the audition had been cancelled. Watching a long line of angry people mouthing off at the United Airlines agent, I made a choice to express compassion and appreciation. As I say in my speech on “Laughing Your Way out of Stress:”

“No one can MAKE you angry. Someone can MAKE you a Daiquiri. Someone can MAKE you pregnant… in that order. But, no one can MAKE you angry. You can MAKE a humor choice.”

Because I connected with the gate attendant and gave him the only laugh he probably had that day, he put me in First Class. As I was unfolding my linen napkin, I found out I was sitting next to a literary agent, one of the few who HADN’T rejected me. She offered to read my book. Random House liked it. So did Oprah. The rest is history. The sitcom I never auditioned for was “Go Bananas.” It didn’t go anywhere, but my career did. I became a best-selling author with a speaking career.

That’s when I hold up my book, and now it’s no longer just a book, but a success story that they want to be a part of.

What is the STORY of your book, your song, your last job? Get a handle on your story and make yourself memorable! Sorry, you can’t use the Apple logo; you’ll have to get your own.

How to Get Over the Fear of Public Speaking

The NUMBER ONE fear is the fear of speaking in front of people.
The number two fear is the fear of DYING.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, “That means that most people at a funeral would prefer to be the guy in the box than the guy giving the eulogy.”

My introduction to stage fright was when I was 8 years old working birthday parties as a magician. Before each magic show, there I was in the bathroom throwing up. Being a magician is scary. If I forgot one prop, I would be publicly humiliated. After all, turning a glass of sugar into a goldfish isn’t a great trick if you’ve forgotten the goldfish, or the water the goldfish was in. I'm sure some of the children in the audience are still in therapy over that mistake.

You might think that my fear has lessened since I make a living from performing... it hasn't. Even though I'm a professional speech coach, I do one-on-one speech coaching for others -- my own fear is still there.

Actually, over time, MY FEAR ESCALATED as I became a professional magician traveling with huge containers full of props. Then, my worse fears came true when my tricks didn’t show up for a gig and I had to perform without them. Many of you read about this in my first book, Stand-Up Comedy: The Book, when going up without magic tricks pushed me instantly, on the spot, into comedy. I don’t know how many other comics got their start because of United Airlines.

I’d like to say that not needing props reduced my anxiety, but it didn’t. Switching to comedy, I just had myself on stage and the never-ending worry, “What if they DON'T LAUGH?” Fears don’t entirely go away; they change. The same thing could be said about THIGHS.

When I transitioned and became a professional speaker, my fears transformed to this thought, “AM I A FRAUD?” My mother wasn’t alive to do the undermining; it was all left to me, but I was good at it. “Who are you to speak to CEOs, businesses, and hospitals?” I asked myself. “What if they don’t respect me?”

Last week, I had THREE SPEAKING engagements and I realized that my fear has decreased. No throwing up...no nightmares...no compulsive over-eating. Well... 2 out of 3 ain't bad. I had to ask myself, "WHAT CHANGED?"

What helped curb my fears was the realization that they were a function of NOT getting something – approval, laughs, applause. That IS a scary place to be. Because when you WANT something from others, you are powerless. You can’t control their reactions. It’s why we have those dreams about being naked on stage. I wonder what strippers dream about.

So…here’s something that ratcheted down my stage fright. I focus on what I’m GIVING the audience. I make sure that everything I say is AUTHENTIC and HELPFUL. We’ve all been to an open mic with a performer who NEEDS our laughs. We feel burdened - it’s an energy drain. GIVING to an audience GENERATES ENERGY. Sometimes on stage, it feels like a tennis match with the energy going in both directions.

BEFORE YOU SPEAK OR PERFORM – go over your material to make sure that your message is FOR THEM, rather than FOR YOU. Focusing on giving is likely to bring down your fear levels.

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.